Late Period Tombs
Immediately to the south-west of the Pyramid of Unas at North Saqqara, there is a very large deep shaft which leads to three burial chambers of officials of the Late Period and is known as the Persian or Saite Shaft Tombs. These tombs are among the deepest subterranean burial chambers in Egypt – constructed in such a way in an attempt to outwit ancient tomb-robbers. However, it was robbers who cut the spiral entrance passage which is now used as the modern access to the tombs via a cast-iron staircase. The shaft was excavated by Alessandro Barsanti, early in the 20th century.
Tomb of Djenhebu
The tomb of Djenhebu lies at the western end of the shaft. This official’s title was ‘Overseer of Royal Freight Boats’ meaning that he held a rank similar to an admiral, probably during the reign of Ahmose II (Amasis) of Dynasty XXVI. His burial chamber has a vaulted ceiling and its walls are simply decorated with offering texts and a list of offerings, Pyramid Texts and Coffin Texts. Djenhebu’s anthropoid basalt sarcophagus and four canopic jars were found in the tomb along with an inscribed cloth, gold pendants and fragments of an inscribed gold band which are now in Cairo Museum. Djenhebu’s tomb has been recently excavated by the University of Pisa Archaeological Mission to Saqqara, directed by Edda Bresciani.
Tomb of Psamtik
The owner of the central tomb in the shaft was Psamtik, called ‘The Greatest of the Physicians’, during the reign of Ahmose II. The walls of his vaulted tomb are also simply decorated with texts from the ‘Book of the Dead’, Pyramid Texts and an offering list in tastefully incised hieroglyphs. Psamtik’s outer sarcophagus and inner anthropoid sarcophagus were found in the tomb. A subsidiary burial chamber containing four canopic jars was found to belong to a woman named as Setyerboni.
Tomb of Pediese
The tomb of Pediese (or Pedenesi) is at the eastern end of the shaft, adjacent to that of his father Psamtik. His titles were ‘Secretary of the Royal Weaving’, ‘Overseer of Sealed Documents’, ‘Overseer of the Place’, during the reign of Ahmose II. The inner walls of his tomb are beautifully decorated with offering texts of the deceased and of another man called Ka, whose mother was Tashenesi, and with Pyramid Texts. The vauted ceiling of his burial chamber is studded with stars. A basalt anthropoid sarcophagus was found in the tomb.
Tomb of Amen-tefnakht
To the north of Unas’s satellite pyramid site there is another deep shaft tomb dating to Dynasty XXVI. The owner of this tomb was Amen-tefnakht, ‘Overseer of the Lifeguard’ and ‘Director of Recruits of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt’. Similar in style to other tombs of the period, the vaulted burial chamber contains inscriptions of Pyramid Texts and an offering list. His outer sarcophagus and inner green schist anthropoid sarcophagus were found in the tomb.
Other nearby tombs from this period include Hekaemsaf, ‘Overseer of Royal Freight Boats’, and Pedeniet, ‘Head of the Stable, Overseer of Horses’.
It is sometimes possible to visit selected Late Period tombs. The guard who holds the key will guide you down the 25m shaft which is dark, so take a torch.